By K. Santilli
How Operation Backbone brought me back to life.
My story is amazing! Over 18 years ago while serving my country, I had a parachute malufunction. While the cause was unavoidable, the result was catastrophic. 100 feet was the estimated height in which I fell, crushing my spinal cord. The Army said I was too "Broken" to be fixed, and I received an an honorable medical discharge. I spent the next 18 years in the Veteran's Affairs medical system, with no diagnoses and more opioids then anyone should take. The opioids really did a number on me, especially since the VA was incapable of properly informing me of the dangers in the earlier years. For 18 years I went back and forth with the VA doctors, congressmen, and senators, Always ending up in a big circle back to the person or office I started with, sometimes two or three times. I reached out to anyone I thought would help, but no help was in sight! Now I am working for Operation Backbone. Three years ago I walked into Congressman Rouzer’s office and spoke with one of his aids. She, having talked to me on the phone many times trying to get me help, was in shock to my actual condition, and offered to call an ambulance. After calming her down and explaining to her that my condition was stable and had been permanent for more than 15 years, at the time, she called Mike Sformo, the CEO of Operation Backbone. After connecting with Mike, my hope began to grow. Though there were many ups and downs, Mike Sformo never quit on me, as I had felt the government had. Through his “Pipeline” I was able to get all the testing needed to come up with a plan for repairing my spinal cord. He flew me and my wife to and from specialists all over the country, paying for everything with nothing out of my pocket. Don’t misunderstand all the work Mike had done, he kept me busy too. Mike would have me write letters to congressmen and congresswomen, mail, fax, and email all the different specialists I had seen, or was going to see. This part, while very difficult and frustrating at times, was very good for me - it gave me purpose again. Mike kept me motivated and focused as much as was possible, all the while being patient and caring. Mike Sformo is one of those rare people who has a great heart, with tough compassion. Mike would tell me over and over again, “Luck don’t get it done, I do!”, and he does! Tough compassion, Mike always reminded me “no guarantees," that the severity and length of time of my injury at best would knock my pain levels down from a 9-10 to a 5-6, boy was he wrong! The surgery was a huge success and I am no longer in the torturous pain I was in. After 18 years of living like that, there is a lot of work I have to do. My body has withered away and is going to take a very long time to properly build it back up. Thanks to Mike again! He has given me the tools and knowledge to do so properly through the Dallas Stars NHL Hockey team, Pre and Post Surgical Training Camp! Pre Surgical Soldiers get a baseline, The Post Surgical Soldiers are given expert strength training, dietary, and recovery exercises. The whole experience is built on as a team platform, much like our military. The Dallas Stars Pre and Post Surgical Training Camp was great for me on so many levels. I had been ripped from the brotherhood the military had given me, and the camp was a great start to reconnecting with society. I got to meet some brothers of mine from the military and socialize, something I had not done in more than 15 years. The emotional boost this gave me was enormous, it only fueled my drive to complete my tasks for Mike. Seeing how we came together as a team, not just the soldiers, but the Stars players and expert trainers as well, I felt like I fit in somewhere again. Through all of this, I learned how much I wanted to help Operation Backbone any way I could. I wanted to be a part of something greater than myself, I wanted to help. I started making comments to Mike about what I could do for Operation Backbone, and he listened! Mike has been patiently working with me, guiding me to the point of my current position: Director of Sponsor Relations. While I still have a lot of recovering to do, I find the time to write emails, make calls, and create events and fundraisers for Operation Backbone. Mike has built Operation Backbone up for many years, connecting with the best specialists around the world, and it is time to expand. Operation Backbone can and will continue to take the most acutely injured Special Forces Soldiers and get them the medical care they need, but Mike keeps telling me “There are 80,000 Soldiers and Veterans in a stadium, all of them equally injured, and we can only choose 4 at a time to save.”
We have soldiers and veterans killing themselves in VA parking lots and setting themselves on fire in front of the capitol building because they are being told that they can’t be helped. We have soldiers, men, women, and veterans, on the front lines getting shot, getting blown up, getting traumatic brain injuries, getting crushed spinal cords, and getting botched surgeries by incapable doctors who aren’t even held accountable for their actions. These soldier and veterans don't fight for their government. They aren’t dying for the President, or Congress, or the Senate. They fight for the people of our great country. We serve our country to protect our families, our neighbors, our cities. It doesn’t matter the state they live in, they all fight for the same reasons. It is time for us to return the favor and protect these brave men and women who do so much for us and get so little in return. Please share my story - the story of our warriors. Tell people where they can donate, and give my phone number to any one who wants to sponsor Operation Backbone. Our military is the backbone of this country, coming from every state, city, and generation. Our military shows us how we can work together as a country. If we don’t show the rest of our country that we are going to take care of our men and women, who will? We have a government that just doesn’t have the capability to give our soldiers the medical expertise that Operation Backbone has connected with over the years.
Please help support our men and women in uniform!
Tell every one you know, social media, email, text, YouTube, blogs, any and every means possible to help save our soldiers!
“You can’t just see a surgeon in the VA, you have to work through the system. I was addicted to prescription pain-killers. Gaps in refills were like detox. Operation Backbone was a Godsend. I learned more from Sformo – Operation Backbone - them in a day than in 15 years fighting to get care. Mike said, kill yourself on your own time, now you’re on my time now. Screw the VA!!”
- Kurt, Special Ops Soldier, Operation Backbone
Norfolk, VA, Parachute did not open – smashed in to the tress then the ground
Mike Told me, “Before you blow your head off, let me take a look. Now I am still in the ARMY, & received a new cutting edge spine stem that has brought me form deaths door, to finishing out my ARMY career.”
N. S. Operation Backbone - US ARMY. Ft Bragg, Broken Back, upper neck
Opioids after opioids after opioids years and years of pain, drugs, misery frustration with my wife and family! My wife got a hold of Mike, tests & tests & tests, location to location let to a 12-hour surgical spine replacement of hardware. Rehab (pre surgical) with the NHL Dallas Stars, gifted me the ability to spent my first Christmas – in years & years to actually be with my family down stairs and not F-ed up in pain in bed with nothing bud bad thoughts.
Nate, US ARMY, Shot in the face broken back
“If not for Operation Backbone, I’d be dead. I was addicted to prescription narcotics and tired of being a burden to my family. Backbone saved my life.”
Thanks Mike! Hugh, Special Ops Soldier, Operation Backbone, Fr Bragg, Back, neck destroyed from years of serving US
My name is COL Don S., a Special Forces officer stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC, and I have received substantial medical care through Mike Sformo’s Operation Backbone. Operation Backbone provides a significant, and in some cases a lifesaving capability for both veterans and active-duty military to receive the highest quality medical care for serious injuries incurred in service to our nation. Too often, veterans must wait far too long for care for serious injuries that they incurred while in service to our nation, injuries often incurred in combat, and as a result those veterans must endure arduous physical pain and deficits, and a low-quality of life as they await care.
These veterans are usually waiting for the VA to see and treat them, and the wait times to receive that care can be unreasonable, or too much for the injured veteran to bear. Likewise, active members must also, at times, wait inordinate periods for care at military hospitals, or to be seen via referral at local clinics and hospitals. Operation Backbone provides accelerated, and world-class treatment and care for those veterans and active-duty personnel that would otherwise wait beyond their abilities for that care. I am a good example of the tremendous capability that Operation Backbone provides. In 2005 I was injured in Iraq, where I sustained serious injuries to my spine, head, hips, and other areas of my body. I had my first of seven surgeries for these injuries in 2006 at Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany, but that, and all successive spinal surgeries have failed. In 2015,
Operation Backbone stepped in and provided high-resolution imaging that showed a fracture of my L4 vertebrae that had been undetected since I was originally injured in 2006, and then Mike and OP Backbone immediately coordinated high-quality surgical care for me. Now, in 2018, Mike is again stepping in to ensure I receive timely care care for those spinal injuries, as my current military post does not have a neurosurgeon on staff, and the referral process to an outside hospital takes so long for approval, and then to be seen. Operation Backbone’s personal committees to care for our injured veterans begins at placement with the best surgeon for the injury, and continues through the post-surgical and follow-up phases, and beyond. What is vital to note is that Operation Backbone may very well be the only opportunity for a veteran or active-duty member to receive timely care, but far more importantly, it is also the best opportunity for a veteran or active-duty member to truly receive world-class surgical care at some of the best hospitals in the nation.
This is the lasting legacy of Operation Backbone, and many Operation Backbone alumni would also say that Mike Sformo and his stellar organization have returned them to a quality of life that they would otherwise never returned to, and in many cases, saved their lives